Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid it felt real? Maybe you dreamt that you went on a shopping spree only to wake up disappointed that you didn’t have a closet full of all the new clothes you bought in your dream. Or maybe you had a situation that made you absolutely miserable, it’s in the past but you keep dreaming that your back in that situation and wake up feeling relieved when you realize it was just a dream but almost exhausted from the stress of the dream.
Then there are the dreams that are more like nightmares. If you’ve had a tragic or traumatizing event that you’ve experienced and have vivid dreams reliving the event, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re in recovery from addiction chances are that you too know exactly what I am talking about.
Despite our everyday use of the term (for example, “yesterday’s shift was a nightmare”) for an estimated 3 to 7 percent of the U.S. population, nightmares can be a serious problem. Nightmares tend to happen during the period of sleep when REM intervals lengthen; these usually occur halfway through slumber. As we prepare to awaken, memories begin to integrate and consolidate. We dream as we emerge from REM sleep. Because we tend to dream on the sleep-wake cusp, images imagined while dreaming, including the vivid, often terrifying images produced during nightmares, are remembered.
Interesting Fact: In the popular reference text An Universal Etymological English Dictionary, first published by Nathan Bailey in 1721 and reprinted through 1802, the word “Nightmare” was actually defined as: distemper caused by undefined humors. Distemper in the same dictionary is defined as: a sickness, disease or indisposition of the body; Humors is defined as: a temper of the mind. Here is a link to look it up yourself if you would like: https://archive.org/stream/universaletymolo00bail#page/572/mode/2up/search/night
I don’t know why, but this almost sets my mind at ease a little, and boggles my mind a lot all at the same time. Nightmares have been around and researched for a long time so I defiantly know I’m not alone in this. But at the same time they have been researched for so long and yet we still know so little about how to prevent them.
When I began my journey in recovery (3 years ago this November) I had no idea I would grow such a strong hunger for knowledge! When I questioned something before it never stayed on my mind long enough to even consider researching it.. I was always spinning in a world of chaos just trying to hold on. Now that I’m not spending so much trying to hold on in life, I find myself researching the why’s in life. Like why in the heck after almost three years of not drinking a drop of alcohol and more importantly at least two years of not wanting to drink it, or missing drinking it.. why am I still dreaming about it… these aren’t just your average dreams either, these are dreams that are easily comparable to the nightmares I also have, reliving some of the most horrific moments of my childhood.. Which again brings me to.. Why do I even have these dreams? And why in God’s Name do some doctors consider one something that is medically diagnosable and treatable (supposedly) and the other not? To me they are the same, they start the same, they cause the same effects, both cause lack of sleep, stress, anxiety and result in my husband waking me up… the only difference, to me, is the underlying subject…
So what actually happens to cause us to dream, and what turns those dreams into nightmares?
Dreams are understood to be recent autobiographical episodes that become woven with past memories to create a new memory that can be referenced later, but nightmares are simply dreams that cause a strong but unpleasant emotional response. Dreams are part of the brain’s default network—a system of interconnected regions, which includes the thalamus, medial prefrontal cortex, and posterior cingulate cortex—that remains active during comparatively quiet periods.
Nightmares in adults are often spontaneous. But they can also be caused by a variety of factors and underlying disorders.
Some people have nightmares after having a late-night snack, which can increase metabolism and signal the brain to be more active. A number of medications also are known to contribute to nightmare frequency. Drugs that act on chemicals in the brain, such as antidepressants and narcotics, are often associated with nightmares. Non-psychological medications, including some blood pressure medications, can also cause nightmares in adults.
There can be a number of psychological triggers that cause nightmares in adults. For example, anxiety and depression can cause adult nightmares. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also commonly causes people to experience chronic, recurrent nightmares.
Nightmares in adults can be caused by certain sleep disorders. These include sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. If no other cause can be determined, chronic nightmares may be a distinct sleep disorder. People who have relatives with nightmare disorder may be more likely to have the condition themselves.
When the nightmare revolves around drugs or alcohol they are more commonly referred to as “Drug Dreams” and they are actually a very common experience among those in recovery. Many drugs suppress dreaming; also being “passed out” or, in other words, unconscious is not the same thing as sleeping. The heavy use of drugs and alcohol prevents the normal dream process from taking place. The brain seems to need to make up for those lost dreams once it is given the opportunity to do so through recovery. I may be covering the specifics on the chemistry of this in a later post as it does peak my interests.
It is thought that as the person withdraws, the brain adjusts to a new balance without the presence of drugs or alcohol and it is at this point dreams about the drug are common. The increased nightmares often bring on additional stress and anxiety that actually run the risk of being a trigger for relapse. Especially for those who already suffer from PTSD.
To me these nightmares are a form of PTSD, they are so vivid, I’ve actually woke up from a deep sleep in the middle of these dreams multiple times. I recall specifically a time where I ran straight to the front yard to make sure my car wasn’t actually smashed into the tree. Another time I woke the whole house running upstairs for my daughter. I can’t even type what occurred in that dream.
So how do I go about getting these nightmares to stop?
Fortunately, there are steps you and your doctor can take to lessen the frequency of your nightmares and the effect they are having on your life.
Talk To your Doctor
Let your doctor know about your nightmares! Ask if they could be the result of a particular medication, you may be able to change your dosage or prescription to eliminate this unwanted side effect. Your doctor can also refer you to a phycologest that can help you work through any trama that may be causing the nightmares.
If you’re like me and don’t like to go to the doctor. Google it! You will find many helpful techniques others have tried and found worked for them. Below are a few that I found in my own search.
One way to try to help get rid of terrifying nightmares is to try rewriting their endings. This technique is known as rescripting. Using the rescripting technique, work to change the terrifying images that appear in your dreams. The key to doing this is thinking positively. Be creative. For example, imagine that the terrifying images in your nightmares actually become your friends. Image them helping you instead of harming you. If it helps, practice this technique during the daytime. You will find that if you rescript your dreams during the day, your dreams will change during the night. It may help to literally re-write the dream out on a piece of paper. In every way that you can imagine, turn the dream into a positive, rewarding experience. Find that there are dream characters that can come to you and help you in your dreams. Practice often by keeping a dream journal by your bed so you can write your dreams down immediately after waking up and re-write them throughout the day.
Good Sleep hygine and Regular Exercise
Keeping a regular wake-sleep schedule is important. So is engaging in regular exercise, which will help alleviate nightmare-causing anxiety and stress. You may find that yoga and meditation are also helpful.
Practice good sleep hygiene, which will help prevent the sleep deprivation that can bring on nightmares in adults. Make your bedroom a relaxing, tranquil place that is reserved for sleep and sex, so that you don’t associate it with stressful activities.
Meditation is a very effective way of having better dreams and stopping recurring nightmares. It relaxes your mind, and makes sleeping much easier. A great way of getting started with meditation is by following a simple guided meditation for dreams while listening to a binaural beat soundtrack.
Remember, in all things Knowledge is powerful! I hope this post served you well and if you suffer from nightmares, night terrors or “drug dreams” know that you are not alone and the first step to conquering this issue is becoming knowledgeable of all its aspects! Google it and don’t stop till you fell you know everything you possibly can on the subject!
Keep Striving For Progress